Through Sonny Lubick's first eleven seasons as CSU head coach, the Rams have always had the ability to run the football.
Last season was a little different.
While nothing seemed to go the way it has under Lubick last year, the rushing game fell off drastically.
In 2002 and 2003 the Rams rushing ranked 17th and 25th respectively out of the 119 division 1-A teams. In 2004 the Rams fell to 99th overall.
While the previous years' numbers were aided by the scrambling ability of former quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt, 2004's rushing numbers are concerning considering no individual rusher accumulated more then 500 yards.
Luckily the Rams do have an excuse for the absence of their running game.
Leading rusher Jimmy Green missed over half his junior year with an ankle injury, which forced true freshman Kyle Bell into the mix.
While last season it seemed the problem was finding someone to run the ball, this season the Rams have to find a way to give all the running backs the carries they deserve.
With Green and Bell coming back healthy, redshirt freshman Gartrell Johnson III , and the addition of speedy UCLA transfer Nnamdi Ohaeri the Rams have depth they didn't enjoy the last couple seasons.
"It's been a group effort this off-season to try to get our running game back on track," said running backs coach Mick Delaney. "We spent a lot of time with the Broncos, the St. Louis Rams and the Indianapolis Colts – teams that have the same type of run offense as us. [We're] looking at tapes and quizzing coaches on what they do so we can figure out what we can do to make the team better."
In addition to the depth, the Rams have also added something new to the ground attack, a two back set. In the past, the Rams have lined up only one man in the backfield, motioning the tight end back when necessary. Now, the Rams will actually make a substitution to get a fullback on the field. Doing this will provide the tailback a lead blocker through the defensive line.
"We really feel we have some people that can run the two back set," said Delaney. "We feel that we have some running backs that can step in and block, rather than move a tight end back there like we have in the past."
Here's a look at the Rams running game, and a little bit of what each player can contribute to CSU in'05.
Jimmy Green- Senior
Green is by far the most experienced of all the Rams rushers. Since transferring from Mesa Junior College in 2002, Green has played in 14 games, compiling 801 yards on 209 rushes and seven touchdowns. Green was the Rams' top back in 2004, rushing 132 times for 441 yards and three touchdowns
Because of his size (5 feet 11 inches, 225 pounds) and strength Green is one of two backs, along with junior Tristan Walker, that is getting reps at fullback. He will also get quite a few carries this year. On short yardage situations he excels because he is a straight ahead, downhill runner who has the ability to carry would-be tacklers.
"I believe my biggest strength is my strength and balance," Green said. "I'm not gonna let the first guy take me down. "
Kyle Bell- Sophomore
Bell is the type of running back that fits perfect in the style of offense the Rams are planning. At 6 feet, 2 inches and 228 pounds he has the size to ram the ball between the tackles on every play, if needed. He also possesses the speed to break away from linebackers and some defensive backs, as he showed in the Rams scrimmage Saturday when he took a swing pass 33 yards to get the offense into the red-zone and set up a touchdown.
"I have a balance of speed and power," Bell said. "I'm not the fastest but I'm good pounding the ball and I can carry the tackler for a couple yards."
He's young, but he got some valuable experience last season as a true freshman when he appeared in six games. He notched 96 yards on 26 carries.
Bell, Colorado's all-time high school leading rusher at Weld Central High School, was a four time all-state selection rushing for 8,248 yards throughout his high school career. He will be asked to carry the ball more in '05, especially when Jimmy Green is at fullback.
Nnamdi Ohaeri- Junior
Ohaeri, a speedy transfer from UCLA, is the type of back the Rams haven't had for some time.
"My biggest strength is my speed and quickness," Ohaeri said. "I add a dimension to the core, it's like a monster."
Ohaeri is the little engine of the CSU running backs, but if he can get to the corner and use his speed he can turn an average run into a big one. In Ohaeri's first run from scrimmage on Saturday he took a handoff 28 yards to set up a field goal.
Ohaeri transferred to CSU to get a chance to play offense. At UCLA Nnamdi played defensive back.
Ohaeri will likely be used in the middle of the field where the running game is more spread out. Much like the rest of the running backs his role has not yet been completely defined.
Gartrell Johnson III- Redshirt freshman
Johnson came to CSU in 2004 with high expectations after an all-state senior season at Miami Springs High School in Miami Springs, Fla. Johnson rushed the ball just twice in '04 before he went down with an injury that ended his season.
At 6 feet, 218 pounds he is another between-the-tackles type of back, but also has the ability to get on the outside and do some damage.
Along with the rest of the Rams' runners, Johnson's performance on the field will earn him more playing time.
"Were in a situation where we are really fortunate," said Delaney. "We know what Jimmy (Green) is capable of, he's gonna have a huge role, and you'd like to be able to play four guys but that's just not the purpose. Nnamdi has been great but so has Kyle and Gartrell. We'll settle in before CU, but they'll all stay involved."